The Rise of Private Communities

For 2017 I invested more than $10K to participate in private online communities (more than $15K if you include the associated travel and related expenses). For 2018 my investment has already exceeded $30K, and I’m looking to bump it to $40-50K within the next several months.

In terms of the value I received last year, these have been among the best investments I’ve ever made. My business income doubled from one fiscal year to the next, and the future is looking brighter than ever. If I’d invested these same funds in Bitcoin at the start of the 2017, the returns wouldn’t have been as good. I expect the same will be true this year too, even if Bitcoin has another stellar year.

Why? What’s so great about private communities? Can’t you find free communities for just about anything?

You absolutely can find free communities such as Facebook groups or online forums for all sorts of interests. I’m very familiar with the free options since I’ve been immersed in this space for more than two decades. In 2006 I founded a popular personal growth forum that attracted 50K members and more than a million posts over its 5-year lifetime. Years prior I founded a popular indie game developer community that’s still running today. And I’ve participated in many other free online communities over the years, going all the way back to 1994 with a local dial-up BBS community that also hosted in-person meetups.

Free communities can be very good, and the better ones can indeed provide solid value to their members. Private communities, however, have some serious advantages over free ones, and in this article I’ll explore some of those advantages with you. If you’re seriously looking to grow faster and get better results in some area of life, I encourage you to give serious consideration to adding a membership in one or more private communities as part of your path of growth.

Here’s why…

Restricted Access

Private communities normally have some type of restricted access, so not everyone can join. Some communities are by invitation only, so you may not even know they exist unless you get an invite. “Pay to play” communities where you have to pay for access are especially common. And sometimes specific requirements that must be met for you to even be considered for membership. The more exclusive communities may have an involved application process with multiple interviews, and they can cost tens of thousands of dollars annually; last month I applied for such a community, and was thrilled to be accepted.

These communities are often on the smaller side. Whereas you’ll often find thousands or even millions of members in popular free communities, private communities often thrive with something in the range of a few dozen to a few hundred members. Our Conscious Growth Club community currently has 95 paid members, for instance, which is more than enough for it to thrive.

Even a modest barrier to entry serves a valuable purpose. It keeps out the riff raff. This alone can foster a community that’s 10x more useful than its free cousins.

Spam is a common issue for a free community, especially if the community managers want to maintain a solicitation-free space. Spammers don’t typically join private communities though, especially if they have to pay to gain admission. In the eight months that our private community has been up and running, there hasn’t been a single spam post. In our previous public forums, zero spam would have been beyond miraculous; our moderators were constantly having to delete spam and ban spammers.

Trolls generally flock to the free communities as well. While trolling can still happen in a private community, it’s far less common and easily remedied with a simple warning or in the worst case expulsion from the group. A person won’t usually join a paid community to behave like a jerk and get kicked out. Such behavior, however, is commonplace in many free communities. Where trolls are allowed to flourish, a community’s standards degrade, trust falls, and interactions devolve into low-value drivel.

Meet the Elite

Restricting access serves to filter out the less serious people, so the ones who actually join are likely to be more dedicated and serious about the subject. In my experience this dedication tends to scale with the cost and/or qualifications necessary for access. So the more difficult it is to join a community, such as by having a higher cost, the greater the average commitment and passion of the members is likely to be.

Imagine making an offer to an existing free community to join a more exclusive paid community under the same topic. Suppose the free community has 10,000 members, and 100 of them join the paid community. Which 0.1% of those free members are likely to join the paid group? It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say these might be your top 0.1% – i.e. those who are the most active, dedicated, experienced, and passionate in the area of interest. That isn’t such a bad group to interact with, either as a member or as a community manager.

If you charge money for a private community, some great members of your free community may simply be unable to afford the upgrade. And you may attract some less serious members who just have extra money to throw around. No access barrier will be perfectly fair. But my experience on both sides has shown me that in practice, simple access barriers can work impressively well. I’ve been blown away by the quality and depth of interactions I’ve seen in private paid communities vs. what I’ve experienced on the free and public side. In fact, the difference is so profound that I actually regret spending so much time dealing with free communities. If I’d known ten years ago what I know now, I would have bought into paid communities a lot sooner.

Private community members tend to be much more active whereas free communities often attract tons of lurkers who don’t contribute much. Our private community generates about 50 new forum posts per day, so our average member makes a post roughly once every two days. That’s a very solid level of engagement. By contrast our free public community had more than 500x as many registered members, but collectively they only generated about 500 posts per day. So on average the members of our private community are about 50x more active in terms of posting frequently. They contribute and connect a lot more.

I know that the word elite can have a negative connotation in some circles, associated with snobbery. Elite simply means “superior in terms of ability or qualities.” The word superior is subjective of course, but there’s a lot to like about working with a restricted slice of a larger community, even if the only requirement is being willing and able to pay the dues. One way to frame the elite of the community is to include those who’ve made a superior investment in that community. Paying any positive amount is superior to paying zero since it means that members have some skin in the game.

While pricing alone isn’t a perfect filter, it’s practical and easy to implement with today’s community management tools, and again, it works impressively well. In fact, this works so well that given the choice between joining a free community and a paid community in the same field with the same features and run by the same people, I’ll gladly favor the paid group. Why? Because it’s a virtual certainty that the paid community will be smaller, tighter, more committed, and more professional. The elite members will largely be found in the paid community. This is an oversimplification to some extent, but I think it’s a reasonable mental model for framing the differences.

More Action and Results

One of the key differences I’ve noticed is that free communities tend to be centered on discussing a topic for insight and understanding whereas private community members tend to focus on taking action and creating results. This distinction is especially true for paid communities.

When I began exploring paid online communities in earnest in 2016, I was immediately struck by how action-oriented the members were. I had vast prior experience with free communities, so I was used to seeing lots and lots of discussion, typically for the sake of gaining knowledge and understanding but usually not leaning in an actionable direction. I figured that the paid community discussions might be more tightly focused but along the same lines of what I saw in public communities. I was wrong.

I was surprised to see that private community discussions were normally much more focused on specific how-tos, action steps, and goal-oriented progress. The members wanted results, and they leveraged these communities to help them solve real world problems and to make progress.

Perhaps the simplest way to state the difference is that free communities are about discussing ideas whereas paid communities are about achieving results. Another way to frame this is to say that free communities talk while paid communities do.

To me this makes a lot of sense. When you’re paying for a membership, you need to justify the expense. The easiest way to do that is to frame your membership as an investment. You expect a decent return on that investment. This means that you need to achieve results.

For an entrepreneurial, business, or financial community, that return could be measured in terms of your financial gain from participation in the group.

Measurable results may also include habit changes, lifestyle upgrades, health improvements, gaining new skills, or anything else that you’d consider a positive return on your investment.

What I like about this is that the business model for a good paid community gets everyone aligned with a strong focus on results. The members want results to validate their investment. The community managers also want the members to get results because strong member results translates to more renewals and more referrals, which means more revenue. This also aligns with continued investment to improve the community for all. It’s a very powerfully aligned model from top to bottom. And it’s simple and easy to understand.

With a free community, this alignment can be much harder to achieve because what’s good for the community managers may not align with what’s best for the members. For instance, the managers may attempt to monetize the community through advertising, but this can easily degrade the quality of the community if they members would prefer an ad-free space. You’ve probably see similar alignment problems elsewhere in the online world. It bestows that queasy “something’s not quite right” feeling when you engage with a service or community.

A focus on results can be very powerful, and the reason is simple. You’re more likely to gain the result you desire.

I joined one paid group in late 2016 partly because I wanted to learn how to do a six-figure launch. I’d previously done lots of five-figure launches, but I’d never done a six-figure one. For me this was more about building a skill than about the direct financial return, but I got both. Several months after joining, I did my first six-figure launch. To me the biggest gain is knowing how to do a six-figure launch and having the confidence that I can repeat it. In 2016 this seemed like a stretch goal. Now it feels like a normal thing to do… and also fun! πŸ™‚

Another valuable return on this investment is that I now have dozens of friends and colleagues who’ve also done six-figure or seven-figure launches, and I can easily enlist their advice and feedback for my ideas and challenges whenever I desire to do so. That’s incredibly valuable and immensely practical.

I still find value in the insights and understanding that arise from open-ended discussion and debate. If that’s your main priority right now, I think free communities are great for that. Such communities attract the talkers, and there’s nothing wrong with that when you’re in the mood for such sharing. But if and when your focus shifts and you feel more drawn to action and achievement, such as when you want to see measurable gains in your income, lifestyle, or whatever, I’d encourage you to give private communities a serious look.

The simple calculus is that a good private community can pay for itself many times over. Try not to obsess over the price tag alone. A wise investment here can put money in your pocket. This is one reason I’ve been increasing my investment in such communities. I expect the financial return alone to be at least 10x my investment, and the total payoff of other benefits just makes it that much sweeter.

People won’t pay a few thousand dollars for weight loss advice, but many would gladly pay that much if you can actually help them lose a specific amount of weight and keep it off. A success like this may not be guaranteed, but what could you do for someone who’s highly motivated and is willing to work hard? If the focus is on taking action, making progress, and achieving results rather than on merely sharing and discussing ideas, there’s a far greater likelihood that members will indeed achieve their goals. That’s certainly been true for me with respect to my participation in paid communities.

Moreover, connecting with results-oriented people on a daily basis is infectious. When you participate in a solid private community, you’re likely to get swept up in the results-oriented mindset. You’ll probably find yourself taking a lot more action just through osmosis. You won’t want to see your peers racing ahead while you appear to be standing still. But if you go there for discussion alone and don’t step up your action game, they will indeed leave you in the dust. Free communities don’t usually have that kind of sting for slacking off.

Once you experience the benefits of a solid private community or two, you’re likely to see many other online interactions as a relative waste of time. It’s going to raise your standards for what you demand socially. If you’re getting major results from a quality community, and your other online interactions are at the level of sharing pics of your recent meals or complaining about the weather, this will pressure you to stop participating in that kind of fluff. This is one reason that while I currently do have a Facebook account, I maintain my account at zero friends, and I only use it to access private groups that I belong to. I have no interest in seeing people’s personal status updates, and I don’t post any status updates there either.

I’ve come a long way in raising the quality of my online interactions since I started blogging in 2004, and I’m so much happier for it. I especially love to engage with smart, heart-centered, ambitious people, and such people are relatively easy to find in private communities.

Deeper Sharing

In private communities the average participant seems to be brighter and more self-aware than what I typically see on the free side. Such people are usually more experienced with the subject matter too – sometimes a LOT more experienced. This can lead to some fascinating and rewarding connections.

Because of the barrier to entry, those who join a private community are often more excited when they first join. There’s this Oh boy… I made it! feeling, especially if a high price was paid to join. This can melt a lot of the ice that people might otherwise feel when connecting with other members for the first time. The sense of belonging is strongly present from the get-go. No one is a stranger because you all have something major in common. You all stepped up to join this awesome group that you believe will help you get results. Compare this to joining a free community for the first time, which typically feels only slightly more exciting than watching ice melt.

This mutual awesomeness effect can be very powerful in practice, especially by making it easy to bond with other members. You feel proud of yourself for stepping up, and that’s a great state to be in when you want to reach out and make new friends.

Another advantage of private groups comes from knowing that your shares won’t be indexed by Google. While some ornery member could deliberately copy and paste your ramblings outside the group, the social pressure not to do so is usually adequate to prevent such behavior. Many groups have a strict policy against sharing private discussions outside the group, at least not without permission of the specific participants. This encourages deeper sharing and intimacy. I often see people sharing problems in challenges in private groups that are much less commonly seen in public groups.

In private groups it’s extremely common for people to post under their real names too instead of hiding behind an anonymous handle. This helps people maintain higher standards for their social interactions, treating other members with dignity and respect.

Furthermore, in private communities it’s common to see people sharing their specific financial results with other community members. You’ll see people share dismal results and positive breakthroughs alike. When the results are weak, they get analysis, advice, and encouragement. When the results are good, they’re invited to share more details about their success to help inspire and educate other members, and they receive lots of congratulations too. Consequently, best practices tend to propagate quickly through a private community because you can easily connect methods and processes with results. This type of insight is much harder to discover in a public community because people frequently hide or disguise their true results for a variety of reasons. In a private community, there isn’t as much incentive to lie or to hide the truth since that would just prevent other members from intelligently grasping your situation; you’re more likely to get quality help if you’re honest about your progress.

More Signal, Less Noise

The signal-to-noise ratio is significantly better in private communities, especially the paid communities. I think that main reason is that paid members don’t want to waste their time. Not only have they paid for admission, but they also have to invest time and energy to harvest the benefits from their membership. Making a bunch of fluff posts won’t help them achieve a positive return, so fluff posts are much less common.

In a free community, you might classify 50-95% of the posts as fluff. By fluff I mean empty chit chat, trivial discussions, basic newbie questions that have been asked dozens of times before, irrelevant or repeated promotions, and other miscellaneous low-value posts.

In the private communities I’ve seen, fluff posts are typically around 5-10% of posts. You’re still going to see some amount of fluff, but it’s not a big deal. That doesn’t mean that 90% of the posts will interest you personally, but you’ll see that people are having serious, results-oriented conversations more often than not. This also means that when you ask for help, you’re likely to get some quality feedback and advice.

I’ve been especially impressed to see how far paid community members will go to help each other. For example, you might post a question and find that a more experienced member invites you to immediately hop on a call to share their best advice and solutions – for free. This has happened to me on several occasions. I’ve seen this happening in CGC too, which is great to see. Paid members tend to feel more loyal to each other and to the group, and so they make stronger investments in helping each other.

I think the smaller size of paid communities serves this purpose as well. If there are only 100 or so members in a group, you can get to know most members to some extent – or at least the very active ones. So you know that if you help someone, there’s a good chance they’ll remember and appreciate what you did for them, and they’ll be eager to reciprocate when the opportunity presents itself.

One of my key gains from adding this type of support to my life was that I felt capable of tackling bigger goals than ever before. When a strong community has your back, you feel like you can handle a lot more. You know that if you ever run into trouble, there are intelligent people you can quickly turn to for help, advice, and emotional support.

A private group is also much easier to manage than a public one. For our public forums we used to need at least a dozen volunteer moderators to keep the place civil. For our private community we have zero moderators. We haven’t needed any because the community is self-balancing. Any admin issues that do arise are more likely to be simple how-to questions or new feature suggestions. Policing the community to keep it clean just isn’t necessary. That’s been typical of the paid groups I’ve seen. Since little or no moderation is needed, the community managers can invest more time and energy in improving the community for the benefit of the members instead of wasting so much time dealing with maintenance issues. Over time this can really add up.

People show up in private communities to get results, so no one wants to degrade the quality of the community since that would only reduce the potential return on their investment. Members of free communities often don’t have any qualms about messing around because they can always find another community after they get kicked out… if the community managers even both to kick them out.

Many community managers use private Facebook groups to host their communities. The advantage of using Facebook is that it’s free and easy to set up. One disadvantage is… well… having to use Facebook with its many distractions and ads. This isn’t necessary all bad though because you may actually see relevant ads for other private communities that could interest you too. Personally I prefer ad-free communities though.

Many community owners also invest in Facebook advertising to draw people to their free communities, and then they work on upselling such people to their paid communities. This can be a tough strategy though, and the community owners I know who use two groups like this are often torn between how much time and attention to dedicate to their free vs. paid groups. This can easily become draining. Personally I think it’s easier to just focus on the paid side and serve the heck out of it, so I don’t maintain any free groups these days. If I did then I probably wouldn’t participate in the free group directly; I’d pay someone else to manage it, so I could focus on the paid side and deliver more value to the results-oriented people.

Another disadvantage of hosting private communities on Facebook is that Facebook groups are pretty limited in features compared to other options. We use Discourse for our private forums (free and open source), and its features are excellent. Facebook is fine for sharing status updates and chatting briefly with friends, but it’s a poor choice for having extended intellectual discussions on deep topics that could go on for days or weeks. Facebook lacks proper threading and category features, so interesting posts are quickly buried. Facebook’s search feature is also surprisingly weak. Nevertheless, some impressive paid communities still use Facebook groups, but I think this preference is largely rooted in convenience and perhaps a lack of comfort in applying other technical solutions.

If you host a private forum on your own server instead of using Facebook, you can build it the way you want it. One of my priorities for our community was to keep it free of unnecessary distractions. Consequently, our community is completely free of advertising and promotions, which is exactly how I want it to be. I like not having to infect our group with Facebook’s general creepiness vibe.

Direct Coaching and Other Goal-Focused Benefits

With a typical free community, the main benefit is the opportunity to comment, discuss, and debate. And obviously there’s no shortage of people who are eager to interact in that manner.

As I’ve already noted, in paid communities the interactions tend to be more focused on actions and results. But paid communities frequently offer a lot more than merely privatizing a discussion forum. They may also include coaching calls, in-depth courses, live events, and other benefits that help members achieve their goals.

In CGC, for instance, we have video coaching calls most weeks, with a typical call lasting 90 minutes to 2 hours. We begin each call by highlighting member achievements of the previous week and congratulating each other for our recent successes. Then I do about 15 minutes of sharing on a specific topic, such as how to achieve 10x goals or what types of 30-day challenges are best. And then for the bulk of the call, we do one-on-one coaching for those members who wish to discuss a particular problem or challenge, going about 15 minutes per person. Each call is recorded and added to our membership portal, so any member can stream or download any previous call in audio or video format. We also have an open text chat going during each call, so members can comment and share extra advice and feedback along the way, and these chat logs are archived as well.

This month I’ll be adding our first full video course to the CGC portal – it will be on the topic of setting and achieving goals. In February I’ll add a second course on taking action. And we have some additional resources that have already been shared with the group, including a 10-day creative deep dive challenge. We also have audio recordings of 96 of my blog articles (more than 11 hours of material recorded by professional voice actors). And we’re just getting started, so the more time that passes, the more resources we’ll have in the member portal.

This sort of thing is actually pretty typical for high-end paid communities. They often pack in a lot of value. But the value isn’t random – it’s generally focused on helping members achieve meaningful results.

Some communities pack in so much value that you may feel a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities when you first join. I think that’s a good thing though. It can help you get used to abundance, whereby the main challenge is prioritizing.

Stronger Relationships

There’s a good chance that when you join a private community that’s a strong fit for you, you’ll come to regard the other members as your favorite peer group. This is especially empowering if your colleagues have high standards for action and achievement. You’ll find yourself leveling up to match the standards of your peer group.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying that you become the average of the six people that you’re closest to. That’s an oversimplification, but it isn’t far from the truth. By joining a private community and deciding to build positive connections with the other members, you can change those six people practically overnight. And this can radically alter the trajectory of your life.

In private communities, trust is easier to establish. Sometimes it’s easily granted because people will treat you as a worthy comrade simply because you’ve joined the same exclusive group. With high trust there’s less friction for connecting, so relationships can go deeper faster. Don’t be too surprised if you have some new best friends within a month or two of joining such a community.

One thing that impresses me about one private community to which I belong is that I don’t feel like I have to water down my advice when I give it. When I communicate with a reader via email, it’s easy to accidentally offend someone if I go a little too far in the tough love direction. In a paid community, however, semi-radical honesty tends to be more welcomed and appreciated because it’s an efficient way to communicate. People are typically less skittish, and they appreciate it when you make your point without beating around the bush. If they invite feedback, they want the honest truth, especially when honesty will help them get better results. This doesn’t mean you should be tactless, but generally speaking, members of high-end paid communities are strong enough to want to hear the truth, even if it may seem a bit harsh outside of that group. You usually don’t have to deal with the pettiness you may encounter elsewhere online, like someone unfriending you because you gave them some well-meaning feedback they weren’t mature enough to handle.

Sometimes people will even tease each other, deliberately pushing each other’s buttons to nudge each other to perform at a higher level. That’s been done to me on multiple occasions. More than a year ago when I was sharing some ideas in a private group, one member noted that he felt that I was thinking too small. Much earlier on my personal growth journey, such feedback might have made me feel defensive. But these days I appreciate it when it comes from experienced entrepreneurs who can see my situation from a different perspective. In this case his feedback was instrumental in helping me tackle the challenge of building and launching CGC – one of the biggest creative projects of my life.

I also like the the CGC members really keep me on my toes. In order to help them get results, I have to grow stronger and more capable as a person. This feels like a very positive challenge to pursue in this particular decade of my life and beyond. I find it especially rewarding to see people making positive gains in the group, especially when they do so by drawing on the strength of the community to help them. It really feels at times like we’re being collectively guided by a powerful energy that’s flowing through the group, and this feeling has increased a lot since we first started. I think it has gradually raised the overall optimism level of the group. Right now I’m seeing a lot of excitement for 2018 among our members.

Accountability

If you like accountability, private communities frequently excel in this area. Their smaller size, closer bonds, and higher standards encourage members to care about their community standing. No one wants to be perceived as the community derelict who never follows through.

Be careful not to confuse multiple definitions of the word caring. Not caring about what people think is often touted as good advice, but this really means not fearing and resisting other people’s judgments. Another meaning of caring refers to valuing intelligent feedback from people you respect, and this type of caring can help you raise your standards when you practice it. In that regard it’s wise to care about what your peers think of you because meeting or exceeding their expectations can be highly motivating – if you have a good peer group that you like and respect.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. – Abraham Lincoln

If you want other members of a private community to hold you in high esteem, you’ll need to live up to the community standards. For some communities that’s a tall order that will push you to grow.

Another benefit of such communities is that they’re often very encouraging of people who are willing to make an effort. They tend to respect hard work and risk taking, regardless of your results. When you fall short, they’ll help you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.

What’s really cool to see in private communities is that members will spontaneously create their own accountability groups, so this doesn’t have to be done in a formal manner. In the Spring of 2017, I participated in a 30-day video challenge in one of these groups. This challenge was initiated by another member who invited people to commit. I liked the accountability aspect of sharing each day’s video with the group. I certainly didn’t want to be the guy who failed the challenge, so I successfully completed it and grew a lot more comfortable with recording and publishing videos as a result.

Last month in CGC, several of our members did a 30-day exercise challenge, and starting today some of our members are kicking off a 365-day exercise commitment – with the goal of exercising every day for a year. They’re tracking their progress via a shared Google spreadsheet. I can see that these types of challenges are likely to be popular, so we’ll probably fall into a rhythm of starting a new challenge on the first of each month. This wasn’t a top-down decision. It’s something that’s evolving organically from the members creating their own accountability groups and participating in whichever challenges appeal to them.

This level of accountability is much harder to find in free communities since they’re usually much less focused on results. Private communities tend to attract people who are a lot more proactive. You really don’t have to baby them. A key factor in the success of such groups is to establish a strong culture and focus on maintaining and improving it. If the culture is really strong, it will go a long way towards helping the members get results.

Looking back, I feel we did an excellent job of creating a positive culture with our free forum community. People often commented that it was a cut above anything they found elsewhere online in this space. I put a lot of effort into making it so. But I have to say that this is so much easier with a paid community.

One thing that surprised me was how much more accountability I feel towards getting results when I’m paying for membership. If I plunk down a five-figure investment for a year of access, I absolutely want my money’s worth, and I’m sure the other members feel the same. None of us want to think that we wasted our money – that’s a very unpleasant thought, and we don’t want to go there – so we ban together to co-create a powerful, growth-oriented experience for each other.

On the operator side, such a community is a joy to manage. I don’t have to micromanage it because our members are committed to seeing the community succeed. Such a goal is in their best interests too, so we’re on the same page. I often see my role as helping to remove barriers to connection and to add more structure where doing so can empower our members. The whole experience feels very aligned. It’s clearly a good use of my time.

Better Cost-Benefit Ratio

How you can beat free? As it turns out, it’s easy to beat free. Relative to what you can gain by paying for access, in most cases the free community alternatives will yield a dismal return on your investment.

To make a fair comparison, you have to look at the total investment you’re making in a community. A free community is never really free because you have to invest your precious time and energy to make use of it.

With a free community, you may invest no money, but you can easily invest a lot of time and energy with little to show for it. Your time is a scarce resource, so you don’t want to squander it.

With a paid community, you may have to invest some money to join, but the benefits can quickly reach a level beyond what you could ever hope to achieve with 10x or even 100x the time investment in related free communities.

In a free community, the quality of advice and feedback will usually be lower, sometimes a lot lower. You’ll be more likely to get bad, impractical, or hollow advice, and trying to apply such advice will often lead to mistakes and dead ends. People will typically be less professional, less experienced, and less helpful. The community standards will likely be lower, so you’ll adopt a less empowering mindset by osmosis. You’ll probably think a lot smaller because small thinking is typical among free communities. Free communities are more likely to encourage addictive behavior because there’s little social pressure against endless, low-value commentary, whereas members who post too much fluff in a private community are likely to reduce their standing by being perceived as talkers rather than doers. And even if you do become semi-addicted to a private community, that addiction is likely to be a positive one that helps you improve your results, similar to becoming addicted to exercise.

Public communities frequently seek to grow their membership just for growth’s sake. This is often the case if they monetize through advertising or other promotions since more members usually means more revenue. Unfortunately too much growth can often lead to watering down a community with lower quality members.

Private communities are more likely to be careful about their growth, making sure to maintain high standards as they expand. And some communities are so exclusive that they don’t seek to grow their numbers at all; maintaining and/or improving the quality of the group is their priority.

The more valuable your time is, the more attractive paid communities will be for you. Consequently, free communities attract lots of people who don’t value their time much. Just go to a popular YouTube video and read some of the comments. It will probably make you fear for humanity. A paid community can actually do the opposite; the better ones will restore your faith in humanity – as well as your belief in yourself.

When you’re just starting out on your path of personal growth, a decent free community can give you a leg up. It’s a reasonable way to connect with like-minded people. But when you start perceiving yourself as an above-average member of such a community, that’s a good time to upgrade to a private community for the majority of your online interactions. If you want to grow faster, it’s wise to join communities where you actually perceive yourself as a below average member. This situation will encourage you to raise your standards faster and stretch yourself more.

If you’re one of the smartest people in the room, it’s time to find a smarter room.

A Better Investment

A private, paid community can easily turn out to be a wise investment on both the member side and the host side. And I don’t just mean financially.

In terms of hosting a private community, I love investing in our members because they do a great job of testing advice through action. It’s not unusual for me to help a member on a live coaching call, and the very next week (sometimes the next day), they’re sharing the results they’ve gotten from applying what we discussed. These people are good investments of my time and energy. I can readily see that my efforts to help them are making a positive difference in their lives. And in turn they’re doing a tremendous job of helping, encouraging, and supporting each other. It’s all-around beautiful to witness.

Contrast this with random people who read a few articles from my blog and then email me asking for tips or advice. Most of the time, these are people I’ve never talked to before. I don’t know them. I have no idea what their strengths are. I can’t give some random person quality advice without learning a lot about them. And if I do take the time to understand their situation better and give them some advice that I genuinely believe could be helpful, the likelihood that they’ll apply these ideas and share their results in a timely manner is pretty low. Much of the time, the wording such people use suggests a lack of commitment and a desire for shortcuts – and especially an unwillingness to face one’s fears and take some meaningful risks. I also get a lot of oddball and obsessive questions via email, such as how to help someone manifest their lost keys or how to re-attract an ex-lover. Clearly my time will be better invested in helping people who are stepping up to make serious gains and to pay it forward by creating more positive ripples in the world. That’s the fire that fuels me these days, not helping someone stalk their ex.

Granted there are some really amazing people with whom I connect on the free side, but more of my attention is going towards private communities these days, both as a member and a manager. Investing in private community members is just so much more rewarding overall. This has massively raised the quality of my online interactions, so much so that of all the time I spend interacting with people online, perhaps 80-90% of this time is now spent interacting with fellow members of paid, private communities. That’s been a major shift for me in a little over a year.

Another nice payoff is that by creating and hosting a private community, the membership dues can provide a nice resource pool for further investing in our members’ success. When I hosted our free forums, they basically lost money due to the extra cost of needing a more expensive web server to handle the load. And they sure took a good bit of time and effort to manage and maintain. A smaller paid community not only costs less to run, but it generates plenty of revenue with ease. This allows us to pay for premium services and tools, to experiment more, and to bootstrap our way to further growth and improvement. It paves an abundant path forward.

Faster Growth

If you want to accelerate your growth, a private community is likely to be a good fit since the factors above can easily translate to significantly faster progress and stronger results for you. You can get quality advice and feedback faster. You can quickly inherit a strong network of intelligent and successful peers. You can get accountability partners to help you stay on track.

This is the main reason I’m more than doubling my investment in private community memberships from last year to this year. The benefits have been enormous both personally and professionally, and it’s a no-brainer to channel more money, time, and energy in this direction.

I know that a lot of people have been losing interest in the daily drivel of the usual social media outlets. If you haven’t tired of it yet, then I challenge you to list the specific gains you’ve made from your previous year of participation in such outlets. Was last year one of your best ever? Did you push yourself, raise your standards, and achieve your stretch goals? Are you entering the new year with an empowering peer group? Do you feel excited and optimistic about the road ahead?

If you like your answers to these questions, great. But if not, don’t blame yourself. Blame the quality of your peer group, and then go change it.

For me this past year has felt like an amazing whirlwind of progress. I’m especially excited about the coming year because I have good reasons to expect that it will be even better.

It was a real stretch for me to start exploring this path in 2016, but I’m so glad I took the plunge. It’s added a wonderful new dimension to my path of growth, so much so that I have to kick myself for not investing in this direction sooner. I honestly just didn’t know any better. Now I know.

With all of this growth has come a greater level of satisfaction from life. Private communities can deliver a delicious combination of connection and results, and they can set you up for long-term success with an empowering peer group. For me the results have been so good that I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to explore this direction as well.

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