From coworking spaces to a virtual accountability & growth program.

From March the way the world works has changed drastically.

So has how, where, when and why businesses get support.

Today we catch up with some coworking folks, who joined together to build a global virtual accountability and business support program.

Torill Bye Wilhelmsen in Europe, Sonia Simone in the US and Claire Emerson in Australia – are all working together to build and run a global community to support growing businesses.

Photo by Niclas Risvoll of Torill Bye Wilhelmsen and Sonia Simone.

Firstly, how are you? How has your 2020 been?

Sonia: In the U.S., 2020 has been particularly challenging! Unfortunately, our COVID strategies have made work and personal life tricky to navigate. 
Torill: 2020 has been a challenging, stressful but also exciting adventure! We’ve met a three-headed troll of problems, but the year is not over yet and we’re up for the challenge of winning the kingdom in the end! 

You're on the verge of launching a new virtual business community.

Could you share a little bit about it and who it's perfect for?

Sonia: We wanted to design a resource that would help people feel connected and productive, even when their usual best strategies might not be available to them. For example, I worked at a wonderful little coworking space in my city — but at the moment, they don’t require masks while in the facility, so it just doesn’t work for me. We took Torill’s insights about what makes for a fantastic coworking experience and translated that to a digital environment. Growth Club is designed to provide that camaraderie that exists in the best workplaces — but this one has a global reach. It gives people a safe and productive space to get meaningful work done. 
Torill: Now more than ever people need to protect their productivity, sources of income and health, but even experienced business owners struggle with finding this balance now. We asked people what they need to not only survive, but thrive. The fun, highly productive days, relaxed weekends, energizing walks, adapting services to hit ambitious revenue goals and getting business breakthroughs still happen for our clients and we want to bring that to more people. So we are creating a combination of virtual coworking, business education and 1-to-1 coaching to transform peoples day-to day worklife and business results. Sonia has built both a profitable one person business and a multi-million-dollar educational business, and is going to give personal attention and advice without the price-tag usually associated with executive coaching or high-ticket masterminds. 

This is something new for you right?

What resources helped you get to this stage, that you'd recommend to others playing with the idea of launching virtual business communities?

Sonia: I believe that in order to create a great digital community, you need to understand community. If you let your business and personal insights drive the product, the technology will support just about any vision. Don’t bend your ideas to technology — find the platform that will support your ideas. 
Torill: Yes, the Growth Club is brand new! We’ve done all the separate parts before; Coworking, online education, strategy and coaching, but not as an all-inclusive, accessible to all, membership model.  
I recommend starting small with a group of 10-20 people that you know and can help you cultivate the culture you want in your online community going forward. So the best «resource» we’ve had is our network of business owners. Hand-pick people you and others can learn from in the beginning, and they will invite and attract more people like themselves. 

But supporting businesses isn't completely new for either of you.

For readers who've not had the pleasure of meeting you before, what were each of you doing before this?

Sonia: I was a founding partner of Copyblogger Media, which publishes the Copyblogger blog. Our lines of business included WordPress themes, Software as a Service, live events, online education, and professional communities. My business partner and I even taught a university course on content marketing in partnership with UC Davis, which is distributed virtually with Coursera. 
Torill: I’ve taught more than 450 founders the strategies for building a business that often becomes their life’s work. I have a masters degree in international economy, have served as head of business in a municipality, and am a certified Quiet Power Strategist by Tara McMullin (Gentile). I’m running a rural coworking space and building the global Slow Business Movement.

As there's two of you, in two continents, are you splitting the schedule, or trying to find a balance when the most members are online?

Sonia: We also have a third partner in Australia. It’s a wonderful luxury to be able to offer live sessions in time zones around the world. And we’re finding some unexpected benefits. European night owls, for example, love the timing of the North American sessions. Any member can attend any session as part of their membership.

What do you wish others had told you before you started building a virtual community?

Sonia: I’ve built a number of virtual communities at this point, and in the early days, I wish I’d better understood the need to communicate boundaries clearly. In digital environments, there can be an expectation that you’ll be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

And occasionally, you do run into members who have rather aggressive communication styles. Clear expectations are important for every community, but it’s particularly important when we don’t have those face-to-face social signals to help. 
Torill: 100% what Sonia said, because if you get caught up in just the tech it’s game over because time runs out. 

Where can folks find more information about this virtual community?

Sonia: We’re in an Early Access phase right now, and people can learn more about the community and the founders by going to this website

How included is supporting both coworking and virtual-only business communities around the world.

In January 2020 we introduced included Business Perks for Freelancer and Commercial Real Estate communities. This move allowed us to respond rapidly to the lockdowns as they were implemented across the globe. 

We quickly introduced included Perks for Virtual Communities to help bring powerful perks and benefits programs to the members and operators of online-only or mostly-online business communities and facilitate coworking spaces’ shift to virtual-only offerings. 

We also upgraded our blog to share resources & advice from round-tables and Coworking Convos in the hope that we could help coworking & physical workspace operators and members spot new opportunities to thrive in the craziness of this pandemic. 

If you’re running a business community, online or offline, please do check out our blog, subscribe to This Week In Coworking, or explore how included Perks can help you attract, retain and reward your members. 

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